Gender Diversity in MBA Programs: Ahead of the Curve

This post was written by Julie Keck ’19

As part of the 2018-2019 cohort of University of Vermont’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I’m proud to sit in a classroom that has an abundance of women. Since its inception, the program has been ahead of the curve in this area. In Years 1- 3, the program busted through the revered 50-50 gender barrier in MBA programs. As the program has grown, the percentage of women in the program has decreased: last year’s graduating class had 47% female attendance, and as I mentioned before, my cohort has 41%.

Percent of Women in The Sustainable Innovation MBA Cohorts

2015 –  55%

2016 – 56%

2017 – 52%

2018 –  47%

2019 – 41%

Important Note: I do not have information on what gender identities alumni and my current co-hort self-report: my numbers are based on my visual identification of candidates based on their pictures on The Sustainable Innovation MBA website. My apologies to anyone I have misidentified.

Although the overall percentage of female candidates has decreased, The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is still over the national average for MBA programs. As reported in Financial Times earlier this year, the Graduate Management Admission Council found in 2016 that only 37% of applications to full-time two-year MBA programs were submitted by women globally. The number is better in the US (42%) than in Europe (36%) and Asia (32%.) The primary barrier to accepting MBA school offers reported by women globally was financial concerns; for men, the primary barrier reported was that they were waiting for other offers. (Financial Times, 2018).

If you take a look at who’s actually attending MBA programs currently, things are looking up, and The Sustainable Innovation MBA is definitely ahead of the curve. As of 2018, no MBA programs report achieving gender parity, but all of the top 10 schools they surveyed had at least 40% female attendance, with only four schools in the top 25 ranked schools dropping below 30% (Poets & Quants, 2018)

While the presence of women in an MBA program is a good start, whether or not they’re being given all of the tools they need to succeed after graduation is another thing. Research shows (The Wall Street Journal, 2018) that women in the workplace are judged more harshly for their mistakes than men, and they often have to choose between being liked and being respected, and business culture shifts in response to the #MeToo movement (Bloomberg, 2018) may make it even more difficult for business women to get the mentors and opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

In order to adequately serve female students, forward-thinking MBA programs should include not only instruction and mentorship for female students to help them when they encounter bias and misogyny in the workplace, but make a concentrated effort to move away from male-majority teaching staffs and leadership. Also helpful: having open and honest in-class conversations about what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace; this isn’t only beneficial for women: it’s also useful for the men in the program looking to become great leaders to all they work with.

In order to better support each other and supplement ongoing conversations about gender and leadership, the women in the current Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort have banded together to share experience and resources during extracurricular meetings. They’ve also found support from female alumni, female Advisory Board Members, and female members of the program’s leadership. While we have had several female professors in the first semester, none are currently on the schedule for the second. Seeing reflections of yourself in the mentors you are exposed to is important in the development of ourselves as people and professionals – hopefully as the program grows, so will the numbers of its non-male professors and leaders.

One final note: gender diversity is far from the the only metric of diversity, and I would hope that all forward-thinking, sustainably-minded program are looking for ways to make their programs more accessible to and welcoming of students of color, queer students, non-binary, trans and other gender nonconforming students, students with differing abilities, and other effective minorities, especially since embracing diversity boosts performance (Forbes, 2018.) Here’s to the future cohorts of The Sustainable Innovation MBA that more accurately reflect the world that we live in and seek to lead.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

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